Behind the scenes at Parliament House
ON A COLD, GREY and windy winter morning, fitter Matt Brown looks up from the roof of Parliament House at the Australian flag flapping wildly against a steely sky.
“Hear that crackling?” he asks. “When we can hear that noise, there’s no way we’re going up there.” ‘Up there’ is 81m to the tip of the magnificent stainless steel flagpole, accessible only by a tiny lift.
From the roof, the flag looks pretty big. It is huge – 12.8 x 6.4m, or roughtly the length and height of a double-decker bus. And, although due for its monthly rotation, it won’t come down this blustery morning.
“They don’t need to pay me for this part of the job,” Matt tells me. “I love to look at Walter Burley Griffin’s vision. In autumn, when the leaves are falling, it’s really quite lovely. We get to see what most people only see as a scale model or in aerial photographs.”
Matt’s pride in his work is quite moving and, I am to learn, common among House staff. His job involves fairly mundane day-to-day maintenance but, when it comes to handling the flag, his voice catches with emotion.
“My grandfather fought for our flag so it’s very close to my heart. A lot of the tourists don’t quite understand its significance until we explain it. It might seem to some like just a big piece of cloth, but this flag, flying above the nation’s most important building, what can I say? It’s an honour to maintain it.”
To find out more about Parliament House, grab a copy of issue 117 (Nov/Dec) of the Australian Geographic journal.